So you are planning on coming to Jerusalem and need some help deciding where to eat. Well, you've come to the right place. I'm a licensed tour guide of Israel who leads an absolutely delectable and diverse Israel culinary tour (more on those below). Like many visitors, however, you may be doing some regular touring and just need some recommendations about where to eat at night - and especially on Friday night (if you are not observing the Sabbath) when much of the city shuts down. So let's get to it...
For this exercise I am going to enlist the help of my online friend Debbie whose food blog and foodie Facebook groups I have often consulted [though I do not know her personally]. Debbie apparently does not keep kosher, so I can use her first-hand knowledge regarding places about which I am not able to give personal recommendations (though I have a pretty good idea from clients' feedback over the years). I will sometimes add a few things that she left out, most likely either because her blog post is a bit dated or because she had not yet been there herself prior to the post. And being Jewish, or just human, I may just have a different opinion.
Market Tasting Tours:
If you can't do a full out crazy culinary tour of Israel - click here for more on those: https://www.tourguideofisrael.com/culinary-tours - then you definitely at least want to make sure that you do a tasting tour of the incredible Machane Yehuda Food Market with me. On a regular tour with me it is included, but I can also do it as a stand-alone experience. Unlike many tour companies who charge the same but give you around 5 little tastings (much of which are free for them) which leaves you still needing a proper meal afterwards, I will stuff you full until you tap out on me. We will try Jewish foods from some 10-15 different countries around the world, while along the way discussing what exactly is Jewish food and Israeli cuisine, the history of the market and of course, just what we are ingesting. Please note that some of my favorite kosher restaurants (or restaurants in general) are little places in the market and one could easily just eat here every night (besides Shabbat) and be more than satisfied without fine dining. On the tour I will point out some of my favorites.
Top 10 Kosher Restaurants:
Just because a restaurant is kosher does not mean it cannot be excellent. What it does mean is that it will be either a meat restaurant or a dairy restaurant. They cannot be eaten together. Fish does not count as meat so it can be at both. Also, certain animals cannot be eaten, most notably seafood and pork.
My take: Jacko's is a great call. But 1868 is overpriced, if you want a simple grill go to Sima's not Chatzot and sushi in Jerusalem is only worth it if you keep kosher and cant get it elsewhere. I'd add to the list Touro, Piccolino, Luciana, Medita, Crave and Eucalyptus (which is pricey and touristy but can be great). Still waiting to try Harvey's Smokehouse. And most excited about the fact that Meir Adoni - perhaps Israel's top chef - is opening a kosher place in Jerusalem called Yam.
Top 10 Non-Kosher Restaurants:
Non-kosher restaurants can differ in what they will serve and how they function. Some are completely kosher but are open on Shabbat so won't get a kosher certification. Some are totally kosher and closed on Shabbat but don't want to pay for the certification (for either monetary or ideological reasons). Some have all kosher products but serve both dairy and meat products. Some are full-on not-kosher and besides serving dairy and meat will also have seafood, pork and other no-nos. Deb's take: https://debbestfood.com/2019/04/04/top-ten-non-kosher-restaurants-in-jerusalem/
My take: She is absolutely correct that Machneyuda is the crown jewel but you will need a reservation several months in advance. A major one that she missed is Satya (probably my #2). Chakra is quite pricey.
Many of the top restaurants in general (and non-kosher in particular) are part of the Machneyuda group. For more on those click here: https://en.machneyuda.co.il/thegroup Deb's take: https://debbestfood.com/2020/08/11/exploring-the-ever-expanding-machneyuda-group/ My take: I've heard great things about all of them. Not only are they the best restaurants here but also in London and Paris.
Top 10 Restaurants for Shabbat Dinner:
There are 4 major options for eating Shabbat meals.
1. The most expensive are the insane kosher buffets at the hotels.
2. Then there is eating with a family for a traditional Shabbat meal (can be kosher). Try https://www.eatwith.com/ or for a traditional Shabbat dinner with introductory explanations (for Jews and non-Jews) try https://www.shabbatofalifetime.com/.
3. There is going out to a nice restaurant (all non-kosher), however not all non-kosher restaurants are open on Shabbat. Jerusalem is limited in its top-level non-kosher Shabbat fare so it's important to book a place early. Deb's take: https://debbestfood.com/2019/01/07/jerusalem-top-ten-friday-night-restaurants/
My take: Again, she misses Satya which is probably my #1 (since Machneyuda is closed on Shabbat). She mentions the kosher rooftop restaurant at the Mamilla Hotel but in my experience it is only for hotel guests or big groups. You can try and get it last-minute if there is space but by that point you won't be able to get a reservation anywhere else. And the food is very limited.
4. You can eat at a cafe or simple place. Deb's takes:
https://debbestfood.com/2018/05/20/debbest-cafe-and-diners-open-in-jerusalem-on-shabbat/ My take: i will defer to her on the cafes. I'd do Jachnun Bar for something different (burgers and cafes are next door for the less adventurous).
Comfort/Kids Food - Burgers and Pizza:
Deb's Top 10 Burgers: https://debbestfood.com/2020/05/10/top-10-burgers-in-jerusalem/
My take: She nailed it with Josef's and Jacko's Street. My #4 is Memphis which is not on her list but is right by the top two in case you wanted to have a taste test. My #3 is at Crave which jumps to #1 if you've never had a kosher bacon cheeseburger. Her #4 is Harvey's which I have heard good things about but have yet to visit myself. The non-kosher ones I can't vouch for personally.
Deb's Top 10 Pizzas: https://debbestfood.com/2020/01/29/top-10-pizza-places-in-jerusalem/ My take: She nailed it again with La Piedra but she totally missed out on Bardak which is my #2.
If you want to get a bit pastoral, and visit places loved by famous international chefs, take a ride just outside of Jerusalem to the hillside. You can visit Majda in Ein Rafa, which was featured in the late Anthony Bourdain's "Parts Unknown" and Rama's Kitchen in Nataf, which was featured in Michael Solomonov's "In Search of Israeli Cuisine." Both are only open from Thursday-Saturday and are not kosher.
No matter where you eat, let me wish you betayavon - "bon appetit."
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